Traveling the country covering NASCAR races for The Charlotte Observer sounds like a glamorous job and admittedly when I first started it in 1998, it was for me. My family and I never did a lot of extensive traveling as I was growing up, so getting to explore other parts of the country was fun. Over the next 16 years, however, those same trips start to get a little monotonous and more of a grind.
Along the way, most sportswriters in similar situations will tell you that you find the opportunity to meet wonderful new people and develop new friendships - sort of a 'road family.' You may only see them once or twice a year, depending on races, but when you meet again it's like you were just down the street for a while and require a quick 'catching up' session.
My time in New Hampshire over the years has been much like that. Since 1998 when I first started covering NASCAR races for The Observer, I have stayed at the Bayside Inn in Alton Bay, N.H., for New Hampshire race weekends. It's north of the track - away from the traffic woes - and on beautiful Lake Winnipesaukee. My colleagues David Poole and Tom Higgins, before me, stayed there as well.
I learned this week that owner Stephen Rogers passed away unexpectedly from a stroke. Steve was a laugh hardy, always pat you on your back kind of guy. He and his family - wife, Raquel and daughter Ashley - treated us 'NASCAR folks' like an extended part of their family. We had cookouts, shared dinners, went boating and watched their small family-owned inn develop into one of the most beautiful marvels on the lake. I've watched Ashley grow up in front of my eyes to the smart, beautiful college student she is today. I was there for the introduction to their new puppy Tequila and there years later when he passed away.
My heart is heavy this week - it seems it's been that way for a while, between a tragedy at a race track in my native upstate New York to family issues back in Charlotte. Living on the road is rough and losing one of the few parts of it that make it special even tougher.
My prayers are with Stephen's wife and daughter. They were the BEST hosts - and are the best 'road family' a weary traveler could have. They all made us feel special, not just someone renting a room. And for Steve - who was sort of a local icon in the community (sometimes for good reasons and sometimes bad lol) - Lake Winnipesaukee won't be the same without you.